We often think of grieving as something that happens to us. But have you thought lately about how you grieve by doing? There may be some particular things that you’ve been doing that have been helpful and healing on your grief journey.

For instance, I remember talking to a woman after her mother died. She told me how worried she was about her father because he wasn’t expressing any grief. Her parents, she explained, were very close and always did everything together. Everyone always said they were like two peas in a pod. She could only imagine how devastated her father must be since her death, but he wasn’t talking about his feelings much at all, and he wasn’t showing a lot of emotions, either.

I asked her what he was doing and she told me he was spending a whole lot of time out in his garden, doing the spring clean-up, planning and starting to prepare the vegetable garden, planting annuals in the front and back yard, and setting up new flower beds in a sunny spot along one side of the house. After putting in a long day outdoors, he ate a big meal, went to bed early, and seemed to wake up rested and ready for another day of gardening. It seemed to her that he was completely avoiding his grief by staying so busy.

I asked her to tell me a little more about her dad. He was a quiet man, she said, who did not typically show his emotions. “He and mom loved to garden together,” she told me. “Dad always loved the outdoors and enjoyed planting things in the ground, harvesting a crop and bringing fresh bouquets and vegetables to his friends and family.”

As we talked, I wondered aloud if, perhaps, her dad’s garden was a safe haven for him, a place where he could grieve in his own way. Maybe digging a garden brought him closer to his wife, and helped him feel more connected to the seasons of life.

Later, she told me that she’d begun looking a little differently at her dad. She started admiring him for being so steady and resilient. Gardening, she realized, was an expression of her dad’s hope and faith in the face of his devastating loss.

A final thought:  As spring slowly approaches and the days grow longer and longer, it won’t be too long before we cast aside our heavy winter gear and songbirds fill the morning air with their glorious music. Of course, as you grieve, you may find yourself out of sync with any talk of springtime, hope and renewal. This would be normal.  But as the earth begins to thaw and the natural world starts its annual turning, this may be a time to reflect on what you have been doing to foster your own personal transformation as you continue on your grief journey.

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Robert Zucker

Robert Zucker

Robert is a grief counselor, hospice administrator, writer, consultant, teacher, and public speaker (also a closet actor and musician!), and he has been specializing in the area of grief and loss for over twenty-five years. Although there is certainly no denying that this is a sad and serious topic, Robert approaches it with enthusiasm and humor and considers his work to be life-affirming. Last year, St. Martin’s Press published his new book, “The Journey Through Grief and Loss: Helping Yourself and Your Child When Grief is Shared”. His other publications include eleven “Care Notes” for Abbey Press that deal with a variety of issues faced by those who grieve. Robert was also the editor and chief writer for the Grief and Healing Newsletter for several years and wrote a chapter dealing with grief in the workplace in Ken Doka’s book, “Living With Grief: At Work, At School, At Worship.” Over the years, Robert has run various grief support groups for young and old, including specialized groups for young widows and widowers, bereaved parents and grandparents, child homicide survivors, bereaved siblings and therapeutic writing workshops for the bereaved of all ages. His writing method was documented in the video: From the Heart: Writing and the Bereaved Parent, and he is proud to have received two Blue Ribbons from the New England Healthcare Assembly and two Testimonials of Appreciation from the American Hospital Association. Robert is currently the Coordinator of the Bereavement Program at Mary Washington Hospice, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and also maintains a home in Northampton, MA. As a faculty member for the American Academy of Bereavement for nearly fifteen years, Robert frequently travels throughout the United States leading bereavement seminars for social workers, psychologists, nurses, teachers, and clergy. Currently, Robert teaches a daylong course for the American Academy of Bereavement entitled “The Journey From Loss to Renewal”, and two multiday programs with his colleague, Jack Jordan, Foundations of Bereavement Counseling, and Advanced Bereavement Counseling. In addition to his work with The American Academy of Bereavement, Robert’s other faculty positions have included Harvard University Medical School—Continuing Education, Smith College School of Social Work—Continuing Education, Antioch University New England Graduate School, and Dalhousie University School of Social Work in Halifax, Canada. Robert loves teaching and is frequently invited to lead workshops and retreats for hospitals, hospices and grief support centers across the U.S. and Canada.

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